This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, Native News Online, and APTN.

More than 20 years ago, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, held its annual meeting with a focus on youth, and educating and nurturing them. This year, the forum’s 24th gathering, the emphasis was again on youth — but this time on listening to them. 

Meet seven of the young leaders who spoke at this year’s forum. 

A headshot of a young person in a plaid jacket on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Michael Severin Bro

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Age: 32

Peoples: Inuit

Home: Ilulissat, a small town on the western coast of Greenland. His family calls him Mikaali. 

What he wants people to know: Bro believes Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities are especially vulnerable in Greenland. 

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“We have been struggling within society, and we need to be included in decision-making,” he said. “I refer to myself as Sipineq, which is our word in Inuit language defining everything about queerness, or all letters of the LGBTQIA+.”

Advocating for both issues is complicated. “It’s like wearing two hats,” he said. 

More: As climate change warms the Arctic four times faster than global temperatures, Bro said that Greenland’s Inuit are facing difficulties in seal hunting. 

A headshot of a young person in a blue suit on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Gervais NdIhokubwayo

Age: 30

Peoples: Batwa 

Home: Bujumbura, Burundi

What he wants people to know: Batwa children need more support for their education, including infrastructure and school supplies.

The Batwa are one of the oldest Indigenous cultures in Africa. In Burundi, they receive little support from the government. The Batwa in Uganda experience health disparities due to climate change. 

More: The focus on youth at this year’s forum was exciting.

“Compared to last year, there’s a noticeable advancement in prioritizing youth perspectives, fostering collaboration, and advocating for Indigenous rights on a global scale,” he said. 

A headshot of a young person with a beaded headdress on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Kseniia Bolshakova

Age: 24

Peoples: Dolgan

Home: Popigai in Siberia, Russia 

What she wants people to know: Her community in Siberia has difficulties getting access to fresh drinking water, because of colonization and climate change. Bolshakova would like to seek help to get a salination station near her village that converts sea water into fresh water.

“There is no funding for this,” she said through a translator. “This challenge is very costly and that’s why the problem has not been solved.”

She’s writing a book on language revitalization, and the effects of climate change on her homeland.

More: When she was still in Russia, she participated in a protest against the war in Ukraine. Afterward, she felt under threat and left the country, and believes it would be unsafe for her to return. She currently lives in New Hampshire.

A headshot of a young person with painted arms and face in a dance-like movement a green and yellow striped background
Courtesy of Jakirah Telfer / Grist

Name: Jakirah Telfer

Age: 21

Peoples: Kaurna

Home: Aldelade, on the coast of southern Australia 

What she wants people to know: She feels responsible for fixing climate change brought on by colonialism, but also powerless if Australia won’t listen to Aboriginal people. She started to cry in frustration during a panel discussion at the UNPFII, because she was reminded of her grandmother who was part of the Stolen Generation, a dark chapter in Australia’s colonial history when Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to be assimilated into colonial society. 

“I sort of had to reflect, because I hated myself for crying. I think one thing the U.N. is missing is emotion and vulnerability,” she said. “I hated myself for crying, but I also felt so nurtured and safe in that space with so many other Indigenous peoples. I just feel like youth brings that passion.”

More: She thinks about her relationship with the land as a language. 

“When we listen to the land, the land will listen to us. It’s a language. Climate change is creating a language barrier.” 

A headshot of a young person in a dark blue and red jacket on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Nilla-Juhán Valkeapää

Age: 19

Peoples: Sámi

Home: Helsinki, Finland 

What he wants people to know: Finland is forcing the Sámi Parliament to redo an election and include some 70 residents of the homeland who are not Sámi, a move that leaves Valkeapää concerned. The Sámi believe this is an infringement on their self-determination.

If the Sámi Parliament is treated with so little respect, then Valkeapää feels especially invisible because of his youth.

“People are like, ‘Youth are the future, listen to the youth.’ But when it comes to actually listening to us they are like, ‘Nah let the adults do this stuff,’” he said.

He is proud of being Sámi in Finland, so this recent infringement on the Sámi electoral process makes him nervous about the future. Especially after a recent U.N. report outlined that Finland still needs to do more to address the historical removal of the Sámi from their lands and suppression of their language. 

More: Green energy projects have threatened the Sámi homeland over the last few years, including an illegal wind farm in Norway

A headshot of a young person in a black jacket and wearing beaded earrings on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Majo Andrade Cerda

Age: 29 

Peoples: Kichwa 

Home: Puyo, Ecuador

What she wants people to know: She’s an activist who wants to better protect the Amazon rainforest, a place very important to the Kichwa. While she believes there has been progress in getting more young people involved in the United Nations, she still sees barriers, especially with people for whom English is a second or third language.

“I recognize my privilege in being able to learn English, so if [member states] want to help, they would help with the language barrier,” she said.

More: Cerda is a member of Yuturi Warmi, the first Indigenous women guard that protects the Ecuadorian rainforest, and she is also a community organizer for Escuela Runa Yachay.

A headshot of a three young people standing together with arms around shoulders on a green and yellow striped background
Taylar Stagner / Grist

Name: Morgan Brings Plenty

Age: 29

Peoples: Cheyenne River Sioux 

Home: Eagle Butte, South Dakota

What they want peolpe to know: Brings Plenty is two-spirit, an umbrella term that encompasses an array of Indigenous gender identities. An activist since they were 12, they are critical of the push for electric cars as a way to stop using fossil fuels, since few people think about the burden that puts on tribal lands through mining.

“People say ‘go green,’ but there are a lot of false solutions,” they said. “Like there’s electric cars, but you have to mine lithium.” 

As an example, they point to the potential for lithium mines in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a sacred space for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Omaha, and many other tribes. Brings Plenty worries about the gold and uranium mines as well.

“[It] goes into the water and gets into Indigenous communities,” they said. “There are health concerns there,” they said. 

More: Brings Plenty wanted to make sure their colleagues also got credit for their work at the U.N. —  Annalee Yellowhammer, 20, and Maya Runnels, 22, from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

“We are a team. We are a group effort,” they said.